Monday, July 31, 2006

Putting On A Good Face

INQ7 Business - Show me the money

I'm going back, a little, to Philippine politics because Tanya Lat wrote me back. She apparently read my post last March and decided to write me back. Seventeen years! Golly, that's a long time.

I purposely did not listen to the SONA or read the SONA of President Arroyo until recently because I knew it would be long on hyperbole and short of at the very least, honesty. Vision? PGMA threw that away the very day she threw her hat into the 2004 presidential derby. I did not even read up the sound bytes until today. As usual, most image-hungry politicians had reason to revel or to ravage the speech.

I only have the best wishes for those enlightened souls who struggle to give forth light to our people. It's just so inconvenient that the worst of alternatives to PGMA are the ones who are making the most noise.

So, for the benefit of the unprincipled, undiscerning, or the uncaring (take your pick) it's all about putting on a good face --- packaging rubbish in an expensive box, ring it around with tinsel on the one hand, or in another vein, giving out expensive, but fake, gift certificates. It all looks good, neh?

Would our people exchange their liberties for the image of material comfort, or the illusion of stability? But hey, the boat that easily sinks is the one that springs a leak in calm waters.

What we have here, is a simple mindtrap that we Filipinos must learn to unravel. True, it's great that we have democratic institutions and a seemingly free press. However, these are empty shells, in the words of F. Sionil Jose, "because the real essence of democracy does not exist here. And that real essence is in the stomach -- as when the taxi driver in Tokyo eats the same sashimi asthe Japanese emperor, or the bus driver in Washington who can eat the same steakas President Bush in the White House."

Would a man, then, surrender his freedoms for the prospect of having a good meal three times a day?

The thought comes to me that many of the freedoms that our people enjoy have been taken for granted, because they have not been hard-won. Or, at the very least, because we have not really encountered what it is to start thinking for ourselves and then be suppressed. The British, and by extension, the Americans, hold their liberties very dearly because of the long struggle they had to secure them.

Us? I don't think the synapses have started firing in many of our fellow Filipinos' minds. Our state of mind, our politics, have been more dependent on patronage, top-down so to speak. As I have very well experienced in the HR field, the top-down means of communication is really weak if the leaders are opportunistic or worse, lack integrity.

Filipinos have always been used to leadership providing benefits: allegiance is a matter of "what can you do for me?" instead of "how can I help?" Progress is given to us and made available to us by the State. We still believe that Great Leaders will show us the way into the Promised Land, instead of all of us pulling together for a common goal. It's ironic where bayanihan is a common Filipino trait, we often fail to recognize the bayani in our own fellows!

It should be the reverse. We don't lack morality because we are poor. We are poor because despite our Christian tradition, we lack morality in the public sphere. We cannot go on blaming government forever. Morally reprehensible any government can be, this is the same government we tolerate. The more we take responsibility for ourselves, the more it is possible for us to make our families better, to improve our communities, to reshape our nation.

But to do so, we must be free to think, free to choose, free to decide. Free to chart the course which leads to what would make us happy. Free, eventually, to mold ourselves and develop a sense of discipline not driven by fear of punishment but instilled with a zeal for the common good.

We don't need a mailed fist to enforce order if we ourselves CHOOSE to bring it about. The mailed fist just shuts up dissent, it doesn't change hard reality. That is the tragedy of Martial Law --- people have been conditioned to ignore hard reality for the comfort of lies. Our economy did not stagnate overnight; it was killed by rent-seekers who did no more but curry favor in exchange of monopolies or oligopolies. We lost the drive to compete because of the comfort of puwede na.

Placid waters do not mean there are no violent undercurrents.

We can no longer put on a good face that our administration is a rabid dog that has perverted the rule of law for its own purposes. No amount of perceived economic progress can hide that, and should the currents swirl their favor away from Asia, what then?

At the very least, we have to swallow the bitter pill that the rule of law would mean going beyond our comfort zones of puwede na. The rule of law made Japan, Korea, and Taiwan economic powers. Coups d'etat were a staple of Thai politics during the '80s but there was no interruption of foreign direct investment or concentrated government/business cooperation toward their objectives.

At the very least, we must not disassociate ourselves from the hard truth that our chain of progress is only as strong as its weakest link. There is no "Strong Republic" that allows the amount of disparity we have in our society.

To answer my own question, yes, I see this betrayal every day. So each day, for short-term benefits, we trade away our right to think, our right to question, our right to truth.

Until the next SONA, we will continue to eat stale crumbs pretending they are freshly-baked bread.

No comments: